Heading into Q4 feels like running a gauntlet. Especially over the last few years, there have been all manner of hurdles to overcome. In 2020, it was the pandemic causing economic and logistical unpredictability, and in 2021 it was overwhelming supply chain issues. In 2022, it’s lingering supply chain disruption as well as a looming recession.
These situations lead to anxiety for many retailers globally. How do you navigate these issues? How do you thrive in uncertainty? How do you continue to drive growth? And if you’re an ecommerce merchant, the slowdown in market adoption and a return to in-person retail, it only serves to amplify those issues.
But enough doom and gloom, because there is always some good news.
That is - people still want to buy. Ecommerce is still growing, albeit a little slower than hoped. Average order value (AOV) over Black Friday 2021 grew by 9%, and holiday sales the same year grew 14.1% in the US. People will still make purchases both for themselves and for gifts in Q4, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.
So, with that positive perspective, let’s talk strategy. Here are 8 different ways you can seriously improve your Black Friday/Cyber Monday and holiday season strategy right now.
#1 - Automation
Between everything you and your team have to do not only ahead of Black Friday but over the weekend itself, you’re going to need a helping hand. Automation has come a long way in a short space of time, and it’s going to be a lifesaver for your store over BFCM and the holidays.
Just think of how many repetitive tasks your team has to take care of day-to-day. Customer support is one of the biggest culprits of stealing time away from more valuable tasks. Enquiries like “where’s my order?” don’t always need a full response from your team, especially if there are more urgent or complex tickets waiting behind them in the queue.
“It takes an army of ecommerce tools to run and grow your business these days. And if you're already a small business owner, you know how much time and money it takes just to keep up with the latest and greatest” say our friends at Alloy Automation, “Removing repetitive work allows more people to be creatives, innovators, and outstanding employees.”
Here are their top automation ideas that will help you work smarter this BFCM:
- - Control inventory to avoid overselling products and remove manual management.
- - Ask for customer reviews after an order has been fulfilled.
- - Collect data and tag customers in Shopify to personalize your BFCM campaigns.
- - Add tester products to orders with a specific tag.
- - Upsell products in your transactional emails based on customer tags.
- - Send automatic responses to “Where is my order?” inquiries.
- - Reward loyalty points based on subscription pricing model.
The best part? These are tried and proven automations that have worked for other brands. Automating your store goes beyond administrative tasks, it can enhance your customer experience without your team lifting a finger.
#2 - Loyalty programs
Black Friday is a huge sales opportunity, we all know that by now. You can acquire a whole host of new customers, boost your sales ahead of the holiday season, and spread brand awareness better than the rest of the year. However, if you only think about those new customers and sales, you may be missing out on an even better opportunity - retention and repeat customers.
“Although BFCM might be a golden opportunity to acquire new shoppers, it actually leaves your existing customers feeling undervalued, underappreciated and deprioritized” say LoyaltyLion, “Especially in these economically trying times, shoppers want to feel like they’re spending money well, not wasting it on items they didn’t want in the first place.”
In their research, 57% of respondents said they felt like BFCM discounts pressure them into making purchases they wouldn’t otherwise have bought, and 59% of shoppers thought brands focus more on winning new customers than making their existing ones feel special. All this culminates in a less than great experience not just for your new customers, but your existing ones also.
Here’s what you can do to remedy that. First, offer something more than just a discount over Black Friday. That might be giving loyal customers early access to your promotions, charity donations, or even free shipping.
Next, think about what happens when Black Friday is over. “A loyalty program is a great way to help you build personal relationships with your new customers, leading to them repeatedly purchasing and increasing their average order value with every item they buy.”
Here’s what to do:
- - Offer bonus loyalty points after the holiday season is over.
- - Let customers know in post-purchase emails how many points they’ve accrued.
- - Make your loyalty tiers clear, along with what rewards they come with so customers are incentivized to keep earning.
- - Build referrals into your loyalty program.
#3 - Gifting strategy and products
For many, Black Friday is the start of the holiday shopping season. While many now shop earlier, 51% of shoppers’ holiday budgets are spent over the Thanksgiving period. Rather than promoting gifting after Black Friday is over, it’s worthwhile to make it part of your BFCM plans and consider how you’ll transition into the holiday season.
To do this, you need to consider how the customer journey differs when the customer is looking to purchase a gift. They may have less knowledge about your niche or products, they’ll be working to certain budgets, or they may be buying for someone they won’t see in person over the holidays. Think about the issues this may cause, and how you can create gift products that will tackle those.
Let’s look at some of the ways you can build a gifting strategy and products that will enhance the gift buying experience over both BFCM and the rest of the holidays:
How easy is it to buy and send a gift card? Can your customers add gift notes, schedule delivery, or send it directly to the recipient? If the answer is no to any of those questions, you should consider enhancing your gift cards. Part of the reason gift cards are at times seen as a less attractive gift option is because they seem impersonal, and that’s due to the lack of personalization options typically available.
When a customer buys a gift subscription, do they need to create the account then pass it over to their recipient? Does it start right away? These are frustrating situations for the customer, and they’ll likely just not purchase and save the headache. Make it easy for your customer to buy a gift subscription, and send it to their recipient to redeem.
What happens when a customer isn’t sure what size to buy? Do they take a guess and hope it’s the right fit, or do they just decide not to buy it? Chances are it’s the second one, especially during the holiday season. Add the ability for customers to send a product as a gift, allowing their recipient to pick the correct size and enter their details. This removes the potential for incorrect details or going through the hassle of a gift return process.
Consider also how you can work these products into your promotional plans, for example offering bonus items with gift subscriptions if purchased over Black Friday weekend. By thinking about this ahead of BFCM, your store will be able to provide a better experience whether someone is buying for themselves or for someone else.
#4 - Subscriptions
By 2028, the global subscription ecommerce market is expected to reach $2.64 trillion. From streaming services to meal prep kits to everyday items, subscriptions are everywhere. And as consumers experience the benefits of a subscription, they start to consider sharing that experience with loved ones. This holiday season, more than 65% of consumers plan to purchase a subscription as a gift.
According to Recharge, “Subscriptions can help you increase your average order value and reduce churn, not to mention help you grow a strong customer base. They also offer a unique incentive around the holidays. Offering subscriptions as a gift means that you gain exposure to new customers—and possibly win over a whole new wave of subscribers.”
However, you can’t just offer your regular subscription product as an option to gift buyers - you need a separate gift subscription product. This allows you to tailor the experience to reflect the fact that it’s a gift, and avoid any potential friction. Consider, for example, if the customer wants to buy it in advance then give it at a later date. With a regular subscription, this isn’t possible as it starts right away. By creating a new gift subscription product, you can make it so the customer purchases the gift, and the recipient redeems it when it suits them.
There are of course other ways you can enhance your gift subscriptions:
- - Enabling one-time purchases
- - Experimenting with mystery boxes
- - Creating community spaces and educating your customers
- - Incentivizing gift-giving by offering rewards points to subscribers who gift
Getting ready is half the battle, and the more you do now the more successful your store will be in Q4. All the advice in this article is based on our ebook, “Ready. Set. Go” - a playbook for BFCM and the holiday season. It's packed with expert advice and strategies from Alloy, LoyaltyLion, and Recharge mentioned in this article, as well as Loop, Venntov, and Kurt Elster. It’s completely free, and available here to download.